5 September 2019

ACT Health says it will better prepare for 2020 after record flu season

| Lachlan Roberts
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Between 1 January and 1 September, 3,402 flu cases were reported to the ACT Health Directorate. File photo.

The ACT Health Directorate said it will be better prepared next year after Canberra experienced one of its worst flu seasons on record, with more flu cases reported in 2019 than the last three years combined.

More than 3,400 flu cases were reported to the ACT Health Directorate during the first eight months of 2019, with ten Canberrans dying from influenza so far.

In comparison, there was only 267, 1,797, and 892 reported flu cases during the same time period in 2018, 2017 and 2016 respectively.

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman believes the record numbers are due to an early start in the flu season and more people heading to the doctor.

“We certainly have had a higher number of reported influenza cases this year compared to 2017 and 2018, which is due to the heightened interseasonal activity and early start to the influenza season,” Dr Coleman said.

“I think as there is more discussion around the flu season and more community awareness, more people present to get tested. Often when we see high numbers it is due to more people being tested.”

Current flu cases remain high with 171 cases of flu reported in the last week, but Dr Coleman expects numbers will continue to drop as warmer weather approaches.

Despite the staggering increase, Dr Coleman said there has been a low “clinical severity” of cases this year.

“Clinical severity, which is measured by the number of patients admitted directly to ICU and deaths, is low in 2019,” Dr Coleman said. “This year, only eight per cent of hospital admissions went to intensive compared to 2017 where we had 16 per cent.”

Flu cases spiked early in 2019. Graph: ACT Health.

ACT Health said it would not have flu vaccine figures till later this year but Dr Coleman said 10,000 more doses of ACT Government-funded vaccine was distributed to immunisation providers in 2019 compared to last year.

Dr Coleman said the fact that the flu season started seven to eight weeks earlier than usual took most of Australia by surprise but said ACT Health will be better prepared next year.

“It took all of us around Australia a little bit by surprise and I’m not sure if we have any good reasons for that,” she said. “In the future, we might pull our planning back a little bit and be ready to go a little bit earlier but vaccine supply is very dependent on the vaccine manufacturers.

“Vaccines only become available at a certain time of the year and we can’t influence that. Next year, remember to take your flu shots as soon as you can.”

ACT Health Directorate says it will continue to remind people that:

  • If you are sick, stay home and remember to wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and put used tissues in the bin straight after use.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms and need medical care, you can visit your local GP or one of the ACT’s free Walk-in Centres.
  • Vaccine is still available in the ACT. It is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older and is free for people at higher risk of complications from flu.

Click here for more tips.

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